Photography by Don Kadair
Position: Executive Director, Knock Knock Children’s Museum
Family: Dog, Mandy
Hometown: Pelican Rapids, Minnesota
Education: Minnesota State University-Moorhead
What kind of impact are you hoping the Knock Knock Children’s Museum will have in the greater Baton Rouge area?
Knock Knock Children’s Museum will be the center of our community for the children in the Capital Region. We are creating a safe, welcoming and engaging environment that supports children’s development and maximizes their disposition for learning. Our museum will help children all children thrive, with particular strategies focused to help children living in under resourced environments. I cannot predict all the future impacts of Knock Knock, but it is a new way forward for the Capital Region.
What kind of economic development impact are you hoping the museum will have?
We have been able to tap into an incredibly talented workforce here in Louisiana, specifically in the nine-parish Capital Region. We have hired 15 full-time positions, and we are in the process of hiring 30 part-time employees. We have a projected an approximate annual operating budget of $2.4 million dollars with 60% generated from earned income. We will attract visitors from across the region and provide families with an experience that keeps them returning to the capital city.
What kind of exhibits can people expect to find at the children’s museum?
We have 18 Learning Zones that are hands-on, interactive exhibits creating “teachable moments” that connect children’s every day experiences to learning. Children can navigate larger than life flying books that reach all way to the top of the museum. They can run their own vet practice, drive a push boat, construct working robots in the Knock Knock Makers Shop; all while engaging in an environment that is built just for them.
Do I have to be a child to enjoy the children’s museum?
We will host grown up programs and special events that will take place after regular children’s museum hours. During normal operating hours, the museum space is for the children of our community and their caregivers.
How will the Knock Knock Children’s Museum ensure all children in our community will be able to play and learn at the museum?
At Knock Knock Children’s Museum, we’re dedicated to impacting the lives of all children in our community. We have started the Knock Knock for All Access Fund to help us offer an array of access opportunities including discounted Head Start field trips in East Baton Rouge Parish, reduced admission rates for qualifying families, and possibly a monthly free day. We are currently seeking donations to support the Knock Knock for All Access Fund to help us reach as many children as possible.
What was your very first job, and what was the biggest takeaway from the experience?
I grew up on a dairy farm, which means I don’t remember a time I didn’t have daily chores in the barn and seasonal work in the field, but my first paid job was washing dishes at the Pelican Rapids Supper Club. I was fourteen and had just received my farmers’ driving permit, at that time farm kids could start driving legally a year early. It’s a long time ago, but what I remember most is being the last one in the kitchen with stacks and stacks of pots and pans. It taught me to keep at it, just keep scrubbing, and I remember feeling of making it through something seemingly insurmountable for the first time.
When did you decide to pursue a career in museums, and specifically those aimed at children?
In the early 2000s, in my later twenties, I decided to make a career in the culture sector. At the time, I didn’t have the wisdom to fully understand the vital role of museums in society, but I got lucky. My first museum job was at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul, as their Traveling Exhibits Coordinator. After just a few days, I was hooked. The vibrancy of the museum industry enveloped me and ultimately changed me, and I’ve come to understand that museums for children—especially for the very young—are primary tools in preparing for an uncertain future.
You came to Baton Rouge after working for about a decade to bring a children’s museum to fruition in southern Minnesota. What lessons did you learn through that experience that you’re applying here?
Going through a startup is the greatest learning experience of my adult life. Lately, I’ve been thinking most about perseverance and the process of building a team and how to make my experiences from Mankato and St Paul of most value to our process here at Knock Knock. We’re assembling a staff of 45 and fortunately we’ve be attracting top talent to the Knock Knock team. We’re focused on building an organizational structure that ultimately allows our work to improve lives through innovation in programming. This is the time in the emergence process when perseverance needs to kick into over-drive. Everything we put into Knock Knock now, will come back tenfold.
What makes a great children’s museum?
A great children’s museum is irresistible to children and is parent approved. Exhibits and programs are thought out in extreme detail to inspire a lifelong love of learning. It’s the one place that a child wants to visit over everywhere else while at the same time caregivers enjoy the feelings associated with good parenting. A good children’s museum is set up so all the choices are beneficial to children and their development. The great children’s museum curates visitor experiences the inspire families to learn together, to learn from each other, about each other and oneself. They are catalysts in helping communities put children first and at the center of the civic. Great children’s museums renew and even transform a sense of place and identity.
What was your familiarity with Baton Rouge and Louisiana before taking on your new position here?
I had visited New Orleans for a children’s museum conference back before Katrina and fell in love with the city. In Minnesota, I had a couple friends whose families are in the Lafayette area, but that’s about it for connections to Louisiana. I sometimes joke that I grew up an hour and a half from the Mississippi headwaters and now I’m not too much from further from the great river’s mouth—what could be so different? The first time I ever visited Baton Rouge was during the interview process, when last summer I spent four days getting to know the project, the board of directors and Baton Rouge. To me, it was a great fit from the start. The board’s passion and vision for Knock Knock was something I could take hold of, and the need and potential for impact called to me. Knock Knock, thanks to its founders, is set to open the doors at a high level and the potential is thrilling.
What has been the most difficult part about relocating from the Midwest to Baton Rouge? What has been the easiest part?
There’s no doubt I miss my friends and family and being at the lake this time year. But, I landed in Capital Heights, which—being so walkable, bikeable and community focused—has made it easy to meet some awesome people and feel at home. It’s almost a little unsettling how easy it’s been to make my home here! People are warm and welcoming and there’s always something interesting to do. A friend from back home was visiting during Blues Fest and it was one of those weekends when Baton Rouge just shines. It was pretty cool to share my new home at its best.
Have you discovered any new favorite foods here, and are there certain dishes from Minnesota you’re missing?
Yes, I’ve been discovering too much good food! I’ve gone from eating seafood for special occasions to eating it weekly, which I’m not complaining about. Partaking in my first crawfish boil was a highlight; good food and good company is of no shortage in Baton Rouge. What I’m missing the most, that I just don’t find here, would be my mother’s lefsa and other Norwegian staples, and this time of year fried walleye would hit the spot.
What is one thing about your job that might surprise people?
Making sure all staff members are trained on “CODE YELLOW.”
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you have overcome, and how did you do it?
When I was ten years old, my father unexpectedly passed away. My mother, was left with our small dairy farm and us four boys, the oldest being 18. Those were tough years, but we made it through. I know what it’s like for a family to struggle, and I know that support from within the community is a lifeline. Those tough years gave me a new reference, and they taught me resourcefulness and grit, empathy and compassion. Those years defined what family and community mean to me today.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Opening the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, but please ask me again after we open Knock Knock.
What other leadership roles are you hoping to take on in the community and/or what volunteer efforts do you support or do you hope to get involved in?
I’m needing to focus most of my time on the startup right now, but I am participating in the Dialogue on Race, which has been transformative for my leadership. I’m also a member of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, the fourth largest in the world. After Knock Knock is open and running smoothly, I plan to identify just the right board to join and take on more public service.
What is your strategy for relieving stress and not getting burned out?
My best stress relief is my dog taking me on long walks around Capital Heights each evening. Some days are better than others, but I try to keep generally healthy by being intentional of what I consume, working out and sleeping well. I practice mindfulness and simple meditation, which has a real effect on reducing stress and keeping me on my game.
Where are your go-to spots in Baton Rouge when you have free time?
There’s never enough time to make the most what Baton Rouge has to offer, and I’m just starting to scratch the surface but here are some my recent go-tos: For the arts, I love the Manship Theater, their diverse programming is excellent; brunch at Concha and lunch at Zeeland Street; the Radio Bar for happy hour; for dinner, I live near Bistro Byronz, which never disappoints, along with pretty much anything at the Perkins Road overpass. When company visits, Robertos in the country and drinks and views at Tsunami.